Column a catalyst for debate on race and politics

Exploration of GOP rhetoric about Obama provokes allegations of reverse racism, while some readers admit wrestling with bias that may be unintentional.

I knew I'd be navigating a minefield in my Saturday column, which dealt with two combustible topics: race and politics.

I said that the Republican campaign, in the run-up to Tuesday's presidential vote, has resorted to a not-so-subtle nativist appeal that relies on racial animus and fears.

All that "It's time to take our country back" rhetoric you hear at GOP rallies makes me wonder just whose country they think this is. I know race-baiting when I hear it.

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The response to the column on public comment boards tended toward the ugly — as anonymous forums often do.

But the hundreds of emails I received revealed a divided but thoughtful populace, harboring fears and resentments as real as my own.

My column accused the campaign's rhetoric of creating a haven for prejudice, promoting Barack Obama's other-ness as a socially acceptable proxy for racial prejudice.

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Dozens of voters objected. Many took the column to mean that I think that anyone voting for Mitt Romney is either hateful or a racist.

That's not what I wrote, and not what I meant. But the implication offended readers, who accused me of race-baiting.

"I do not yet know who I will vote for, but to suggest that if I lean toward Romney it is racist is inappropriate," wrote Sam Wild. "Please appreciate that there are idiots, morons, imbeciles and just plain dopes in the fringes of both parties, and to focus only on the Romney jerks is polarizing."

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Readers in that camp insist that opposition to Obama is not about race. It's about a bad economy, broken promises and the incumbent's liberal agenda.

"Because of the actions of a very small percentage of Americans, you used a broad brush and stereotype to classify whites as being racist and not voting for President Obama because of his race," wrote Vahak Petrossian of Glendale. He is not voting for Obama because "he broke his promise after the election" to acknowledge the Armenian genocide.

But some readers, in trying to call me out, actually validated the column's claim.

"You want to make it about a black man," wrote Gary Marquis of Orange County. "I didn't vote for Obama because I think he is a liberal Marxist … a man with more Arabic genes than black genes, [who] has failed at the job."

And then there was the guy who "hates your idiot Muslim president" because he caters to "radical libs."

Other readers endorsed my perspective, and said they too were disturbed by what they saw as unfair treatment of Obama — the candidate and the president.

"The ugly treatment afforded this president is an embarrassment for our country and me personally," wrote Sue Masengale of Rancho Palos Verdes. "As a 71-year-old I've seen a few presidents come and go. But at no time have I witnessed this degree of ugliness and lack of respect."

But others said that this kind of bare-knuckle brawl is par for the course in such a close race, with so much at stake.

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